“I was the chink in his armor, his Achilles’ hell. My father raised me and shaped me into a version of himself, but in doing so he sowed the seeds of his own demise.”
There was a time when books about young abducted girls seemed to be on the shelves so much that I felt like every book I read was the same. Of course it was mirroring what had been happening in reality, young girls returned home after being ‘kept’ by disturbed men. I found myself avoiding several of the novels, but what pulled me in with this is the story is from the perspective of the child born between the victim and the abductor who has learned to exist in the wilds. ‘I was born two years into my mother’s captivity. She was three weeks shy of seventeen. If I had known then what I do now, things would have been a lot different. I wouldn’t have adored my father.’ Helena doesn’t know much of anything about the outside world, how is she to understand her father is a bad man, that her mother was taken against her will? Learning to live in the wilds on the knee of a brutal father doesn’t make her love him less. She loves, worships her father and feels distanced from her seemingly cold mother. How could she possibly wrap her mind around why her mother doesn’t seem to love her as much as her dad? How is she to understand that other world her mother belongs to and her longing for it? Helena is strong, she can take beatings, she hunts without fear, she is a feral child where her mother seems weak compared to she and her father. It is only later, through a slow painful dissection of her time in the cabin as she tracks her escapee father that she will come to understand her mother’s love.
Helena keeps her true identity hidden from her husband and children. She has done everything she can to cover her past , never telling anyone that she is the infamous Marsh King’s daughter. Too, she has changed her looks so her father could never know where she ended up. Not once visiting him in prison, though torn between a twisted love for the only father she ever knew, she has found a way to exist among others in her own way. In order to do this, she’s had to murder a part of herself and disappear. This is the part of the book some people won’t understand, how a child can love a brutal person, how even someone born in captivity could possibly have good memories threaded through with the bad. Helena is her father’s daughter, “Everything I know about the marsh that’s worth knowing, this man taught me.” For parents, it’s easy to twist a child, to win their love. Closed off from the rest of the world, how can anyone know any different than the love that’s served on the table? How can a child long for food she has never tasted? Helena’s father is a broken, twisted man with serious mental issues. How could she possibly understand her mother’s fear and weakness (and never see until long after she is gone the strength and love that was at the edge of her fear) when she was forbidden from filling her child’s head with the truth, with stories of where she came from and her abduction? Helena is loyal to her father but there comes a time when his brutality goes too far and her mind finds a way to make her see that her father is a ‘bad bad man’. As she grows and his lessons get far more severe, something inside of her sours and turns on her father. This is the rip in the world she knew, this is the turning point where she loses everything and must learn to live in the ordinary world, a place as foreign to her as outer space.
I love what Dionne did here. Who would come from the wilds and suddenly be happy in our modern day comforts, how would such a child make easy friendships, know how to navigate the social world? They wouldn’t. This clever author thought of these things. Even as a mother and wife, she needs her solitude, her time with the land. The wild child still beats inside of her. When news reveals that her father has escaped, Helena knows she can find him and if she doesn’t- there will be bloodshed. She must get to him first, to keep her husband and children safe because no one can hunt like the Marsh King.
She has made a life for herself, having never settled in with her mother and grandparents after their escape/rescue, feeling only like a bad seed, a reminder of everything her mother suffered. She is the child of the pedophile/child abductor, there could be no hope of love from her grandparents. “There’s a stigma to being the offspring of a kidnapper, rapist, and murderer that’s hard to shake.” She still has a wild streak, the marsh still lives inside of her. Torn between two worlds, she cannot live in the safe suburban world that her mother is from.
As she hunts her father down, one has to wonder if she is strong enough to conquer the Marsh King. There is a terrible weight within her, things she had to do in their final moments at the cabin that the reader learns slowly. More than a thriller, it’s a heartbreaking psychological novel. The natural world and her affinity for it was very much the heart for me. She is as wild as the marsh and I’m a sucker for novels about people surviving outside society. Everything she learned came from her father’s bent mind, and there lies the confusion and chaos in her heart, that she still feels love on the edges of her soul for someone who doesn’t deserve it. There was love in her mother too, it just dawned on Helena too late. Read it, it’s brutal and dark yet there is a resilience in Helena’s nature and a lot of fight! Readers won’t always love Helena, and will feel horrible for her mother, but this isn’t her story! You can be assured that Helena is exactly as one would expect such a child to be, with everything she was born into and the world she later was delivered to.
Publication Date: June 13, 2017